The Nupe (traditionally called the Nupawa by the Hausas and Tapa by the neighbouring Yoruba) are an ethnic group native to the Middle Belt of Nigeria, and are the dominant ethnicity in Niger State, an important minority in Kwara State. The Nupe are also present in Kogi State, as well in the Federal Capital Territory.
Population and demography
There are probably about 4.5 million Nupes, principally in Niger State. The Nupe language is also spoken in Kwara, Kogi and FCT. They are primarily Muslims, with a few Christians and followers of African Traditional Religion.
The Nupe people have several local, traditional rulers. The Etsu Nupe (Bida) is not pure Nupe, His great Grandfather from his father side is Fulani while the family of his mother was complete Nupe. His Great grandfather from his father side came to rule the Bida in the 1806. They have no present capital, although they were originally based at Rabah and only moved to Bida in the nineteenth century.
ETHNONYMS: The Nupe call themselves Nupeci and refer to their language as Nupe. Their neighbors, such as the Hausa, Gbari, Birnin Gwari, Yoruba, and Kakanda, identify them by other names: Nufawa, Abawa, Anupeyi, Anufawhei, Tapa, and Anupecwayi.
The Nupe people have various traditions. Many practices have changed as a result of The movements started by Usman Dan Fodio jihad of the 19th century, but they still hold on to some of their culture. Many Nupe people often have scarification on their faces (similar to an old Yoruba tradition), some to identify their prestige and the family of which they belong as well as for protection, as well as jewelry adornment. But these traditions are dying out in certain areas. Their art is often abstract. They are well known for their wooden stools with patterns carved onto the surface.
Before the Fulani conquest in 1804 the Nupe Empire has reached the height of its fame. Later developments brought the kingdom under the domination of the dynasty of the empire of Gwandu – after the Fulani conquest of the entire Hausa States. After the seizure of authority from the natives (non-Fulani rulers) in 1810, Mallam Dendo (locally called Manko), a Fulani scholar from Bangana (a village near Brinin Kebbi)
established himself as the new leader. He thus moved the then Nupe capital from Raba to Bida.
On the world map, Bida lies between latitudes 6`20’ and 7`15’ North of the Equator and longitudes 5` 40’ and 6` 33’ East of the Greenwich Meridian. This geographically places the area almost in the centre of Nigeria.
Bida is generally regarded as the capital of Nupe land in Nigeria. Its rapidly increasing population is put presently at more than 600,000 people.
History has it that by 1352, the Nupe people were already settled in this location. Geographically this location shares boundaries with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the South East of Bida and Minna towards Suleja.
While to the North it shares boundaries with Zungeru and North West by Zugurma towards Kontagora. In the South West end of Jebba it shares boundaries with Yoruba villages near Kabba in the West of River Niger towards Okene down to Lokoja. Hence, the Nupe people are spread over a large space in central Nigeria.
They speak a language of the Nupoid group in the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Others languages in the group are Igbira (Ebira), Gbagyi (Gbari), Gade, and Kakanda. Nupe is related most closely to Gbari and Kakanda in structure and vocabulary. There are at least two markedly different dialects: Nupe central and Nupe Tako
There is a remarkable difference in the language tone of the Nupe people, that distinguishes individual’s location in the zonal distribution of Nupe people. For instance, Nupe people around Lafiagi/Pategi and Bacita have a distinct tone from others. Similarly, the tone of Nupes from Lapai is clearly different from that of others from other zones. The same thing goes with the tonal expression of Nupes in Lokoja, Muye, and Budan areas. However, there is a common definition and understanding when the central Nupe tone is used.
In another perspective, the use of Nupe in its spoken term is pure. However, it is noteworthy that due to long time or centuries of intercultural activities between Hausas and Nupes, certain words seem to have been integrated into the lifestyle and certain expressions in Nupe culture.
Most importantly too, the sharing of practices based on the common principles of Islam that is the predominant religion of the Nupes and subsequent Jihadist activities have left traces of language sharing and combination of Nupe and Hausa words. A similar trend is observed among the Nupes in Lafiagi and the Igbomina Yoruba in the South Western Nupeland. The interrelationships are so deep that in some Yoruba villages in the Igbomina area, in certain ceremonies, a Nupe head presides with deep sense of respect for ancestral backgrounds of the two groups. This is particularly significant, given the history of several families formed as a result of Yoruba – Nupe intermarriages.
The Nupe kingdom was founded by Tsoede, alias Edegi who was born in 1465. The early Nupe history recognised Tsoede and his fundamental contributions to the building of Nupe dynasty. Tsoede was the son of a Nupe mother and an Igala father who was raised at the Igala court in Idah but later returned to his natal home in Nupeland. He returned with magical and symbolic regalia bequeathed to him by his father, the Igala king. On his return to his maternal home he gained control over the vast area of Nupeland and extended his kingdom by conquering the lands of neighbours as well. The people conquered were the Yoruba in the south and the Kamberi and Kamuku in the north. He founded Nupeko as his administrative capital and from there asserted his political might and authority in the entire Nupe kingdom. Tsoede passed away in 1591 in one of his military expansionist missions, north of the Nupe kingdom. Hence, Nadel refers to Tsoede as the culture hero and mythical founder of the Nupe kingdom.
The Nupe people have been recognised for their tremendous achievements in the history of the black race, according to valuable information from the work of the renowned anthropologist, Professor S.F. Nadel, the author of the Black Byzantine, who spent over 20 years in Nupe Land and spoke Nupe fluently in those hectic years of anthropological research. His adopted Nupe name was Ndakotsu Nasara (Etsu’s grandfather, the white man).
The Nupe people have historical links with the Hausas of Katsina, Kano and Borno people. This is evident with few examples. Both the towns of Abaji and Eggan have traditions which confirm that they were founded by men from Katsina. Bokane was first settled by a man from Kano (Hausa: Bakano i.e. a Kano man) while Kutigi and Enagi became the homes of settlers from Borno whose origin gave the whole region its name, Benu. They are said to be specifically from ukawa.
Despite the ever-increasing connection in social and commercial relationships which gradually spread over Nupeland from the north, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Nupe culture, especially prior to the nineteenth century, was firmly linked to that of its neighbours across the River Niger. Due to overwhelming data on Yoruba history over that of other Nupe neigbouring tribes such as Igala, Gwari and Borgu we can see through documentation and interactions of the long-term connection between Yoruba and Nupe. There is reason to accept the evidence, in this connection, of major shifts in population as well as the emigration of individuals and small groups. For instance western Nupe had once been settled by Yoruba-speaking people
who, it was gathered, as a result of integration moved to the south of the River Niger.
It has been interesting to note that historically, it is established that Oranmiyan, a descendant of Oduduwa, the founder of the Yoruba race, married Elempe, the daughter of the Nupe King. Their son was the powerful thundering Sango; thus he was half-Nupe, half-Yoruba. He later became the Alaafin (King) of Oyo Empire. After Sango’s brother invaded the Nupe people during his reign as the king of Oyo, the Etsu-Nupe, known then to the Yoruba as Lajomo, fought back strongly and the evidence of that historical event could be traced to Ede and Ilesha and the conquest of Oyo Empire. However, events of the following years showed that the relationship between the Nupe people and, the Yoruba became to be cordial. This explains the introduction of Egugu into Yoruba land by the Nupe. Subsequently, with the introduction of Islam into Nupe Land, it equally spread fast to the neighbouring Yoruba towns like Offa and Ibolo communities.
Nupe servants to leading Yoruba chiefs were treated with cordiality. A prominent example was the Tapa Oshodi, the servant of Kosoko, the King of Lagos, who recognised or treated slaves as free natives. Hence, the Nupes in Yoruba land made themselves at home throughout the 19th century. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Tapa Oshodi’s name has become a popular or household name in Lagos and beyond.
Also, during the 1980s and 1990s, the wind of unity blew across the entire Nupe speaking communities in Niger, Kwara and Kogi states. For instance, this period witnessed a clamour for Ndaduma State, a dream that is still dear to the hearts of Nupes in Niger, Kwara and Kogi states. The recent approval and construction of a major road and bridge across River Niger through Nupeko the historic headquarters of the Nupes to Pategi is a development that is heartily celebrated among the Nupes.
It is good to understand the evolution of leadership structure in Bida, the undisputed headquarters of Nupe people in Nigeria. The traditional inhabitants of the ancient city (Banin Bida) were known as Beni. These were very powerful people with mystical powers (now overtaken by Islam). The original house of Etsu-Yisa was the palace of the leadership where the Etsu came from before the conquest of Nupe land by the Fulani rulers (Goyizhi) in 1804, who displaced the Bida Nupe leadership structure in early 19th century.
The Fulani leader-Mallam Dendo (Manko) who became the new leader of this empire started it all. His son, Usman Zaki, became the first Etsu Nupe in 1832.
There are three houses in Bida where Etsu Nupe rotates. These are:
Since the emergence of the first Etsu-Nupe of Fulani descendent in 1832, there have been 13 Etsu.
The Etsu-Nupe appoints credible people to several traditional title offices. These title holders are the Etsu Nupe’s loyalists, who advise him from time to time, while several district heads are appointed to head several districts in Bida Emirate. The same is practiced in other emirates.
The Nupe live in large villages or towns called ezi. Small settlements are called tunga or kangi, words that signify a "daughter-settlement" of a village or town. The local arrangement of Nupe settlements is consistent, with clusters of compounds consisting of a number of walled compounds, or "houses," forming a ward, or efu. The wards are separated by stretches of open land and farms. A Nupe settlement with its scattered wards used to be encircled by a large town wall, whose remains can still be found in many places.
The militant history of the Nupe led to walled villages and towns to protect people from attack. The traditional house consists of a number of huts, mostly round, built of clay and thatched with grass and surrounded by a high mud wall. In the twentieth century Western architecture and taste became common, especially among people living in towns. Sheets of corrugated iron are used in place of thatch roofs, and concrete cement houses are replacing mud constructions. Individual families that earned high enough salaries built their own houses rather than living in extended family homes. The refusal to contribute to the cost of the repairs of the extended family home often led to the early disintegration of those homes.
Nupe land is made up of an agrarian population, where the economy and social life revolve round agriculture. The people are active farmers. Major crops grown are rice, sorghum, sugar cane, millet, melon, vegetables, yam, homestead livestock management and fishing.Cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes (grown inland) are of secondary importance. The large proportion of seasonally flooded (fadama) land has allowed a greater emphasis on growing rice, sugarcane, and onions. This has encouraged the establishment of commercial growing and refining of sugar at Bacita. The Nupe practice hoe agriculture, using a large, heavy hoe called a zuku and a small hoe called dugba. The Nupe system of agriculture is based on shifting cultivation combined with rotation of crops. The low population densities and less intense form of agriculture allowed more of the original savanna to survive, and woodland products are significant, particularly from the shea-butter tree and the locust-bean tree. There are many fishermen in the villages on the banks of the Niger and Kaduna rivers and their tributaries. Food processing is entirely done by women. Also,marketing of farm produce is in the hands of women. Cattle raising is engaged in by the Bororo Fulani, who move their herds from one pasture to another as necessity dictates.
However, many people are civil servants, employed in government establishments only. There are very few industries and private companies that employ the services of people. Despite the unique history of the Nupes, they have not had fare sharing in national development. The commonest occupation in Nupe land is teaching. Most of the schools in various zones are predominantly handled by teachers of Nupe origin. Those around the riverside areas are predominantly fishermen and their wives are actively engaged in processing and selling of fish.
Some of the cottage industries that are simple income-generation avenues to Nupe people are traditional soap making, blacksmithing, brass work, wood work, tailoring and cooperative engagements. Modern industries in Nupe land include Nigerian Sugar Company, Bacita, Sunti Sugar Company, Sunti, Jebba Paper Mill and the two major Hydro Electricity Stations in Nigeria – the Kanji Dam, New Bussa and Jebba Dam, Jebba. Hence, Nupe land is the power base of Nigeria.
A major staple food that is common to many households in Nupe land is rice. This is prepared either as joloff rice or in the form of “eje boci” (mashed) rice. The reason for this development is due to the fact that majority of the farmers both within and around fadama lands (Low land marshy areas) which allow for the cultivation of rice, in communities like Jima, Doko, Edozhigi, Bacita, Katcha, Gbara etc have rice production as a major and profitable venture. Hence, the explanation why rice is a common feature in households’ diet in Nupeland. Another delicacy that goes with rice is fish; both smoked and fresh fish are in abundance, especially from adjoining tributaries around Rivers Niger and Kaduna. All villages and towns around the bank of these rivers and other smaller rivers engage in fishing activities all year round.
It is a tradition in Nupe land to welcome visitors with delicious meals from rice and fish soup. Also, during ceremonies such as naming or marriage ceremonies as well as festivals like Sallah (end of Ramadan) Id-El-fir or Id-Kabir celebrations, rice feast is a common feature.
Other food types include mashed meal “eje boci” which Hausas refers to as “tuwo” from –sorghum, millet, and maize. These are served on alternate basis with beans, cooked yam, potatoes and garri. Sometimes beans is mixed with “Yiwara” (ground sorghum) or millet sprinked on beans after conversion into paste form. Other common foods are porridge from millet, sorghum or maize called “Kunu”. This is consumed along with certain snacks like akara (bean cake), “masa” sorghum cake, “mashe” (early millet cake) or “Dankuwa” special confectionery from a combination of fried ground nut and maize and lastly Kuli-Kuli made from groundnut after extraction of groundnut oil, where the paste from that process is fried; this is popular with students as African “biscuit”. These snacks are very important in Nupeland because they facilitate “casual” eating especially among children when they like to soak garri and drink along with these snacks of interest. Most significantly, they are used to take breakfast when served as porridge. This also brings to focus, the consumption of “left over” (Jekun) that is cooked with fresh ingredients. Jekun is the second cooking of leftover food from previous supper. This left-over is from “eje boci” (mashed food) of rice, millet, sorghum or maize origin.
Several dishes are served with specific soups in Nupeland. Some of these soups are stew made of tomatoes with either meat, chicken or fish. It is good for all kinds of food; it goes with “eje boci”, white rice, yam, etc. Other soups are Ezowa (bean soup) significant for “eje boci” from rice and vegetable soup that is sometimes mixed with melon that is served along with “eje boci” rice. Others are Ningbana (from liquid ground sorghum). Ningbana is delicious if served with left-over (Jekun) second cooking of left-over food. Other common soups are from Herbiscus Sobderifa (Calyx) known as “Emagi”, Okro soup, Baobab leaf soup (Kuka) among others. One significant soup ingredient in Nupe land is “Kula” processed locust bean that is Nupe’s version of “Dadawa” (Hausa) and “Iru” (Yoruba).
The traditional industries, especially guild-organized crafts in which membership is largely hereditary, are done by men. These trades include blacksmithing, brass and silver smithing, glassmaking, weaving, beadwork, building, woodcarving, and carpentry. Nupe brasssmiths (tswata muku) are found mostly in Bida. The woodcarving tradition of the Nupe does not depend on the ceremonial or ritual use of artifacts but is almost entirely "art for art's sake."
The development of cash crops has involved mostly foodstuffs for the Nigerian market rather than industrial crops for exportation overseas. Nupeland was an important market center on trade routes. Those ancient trade routes have given way to motor roads and railways. Nupe exports rice, kola nuts, smoked fish, palm kernels, shea nuts, shea butter, groundnuts, and craft items to other parts of Nigeria and imports palm oil, salt, southern kola nuts, and livestock.
A Nupe woman's obligations as a wife are to prepare meals for the family, perform child care, wash clothes, and bring firewood and water. Women spin, weave, cook food for sale at the market, or practice hairdressing. Men perform the primary productive activity, such as cultivating or transplanting crops; women occasionally assist in the harvesting. Women are in charge of preparing and marketing agricultural produce. The division of labor is flexible, and couples generally help each other when necessary.
Under traditional conditions only men can hold or claim land. Lands were apportioned by the village head among the heads of families. The family head granted the right of occupancy to members of his family. Land cannot be sold, but it may be redistributed after the migration of the holder or the extinction of the family. The small individual plots (buca) are situated near the village, and the larger family plots (efako) some distance away. Old men who own plots are given preference by locating their plots near the village so that they do not have to walk too far.
Kin Groups and Descent. The Nupe have only one word for kinship, dengi, which defines relationship in the widest terms as well as in a more restricted sense. The basic structure of kinship is the extended family, which entails living together in the same "house" and recognizing a common family head, emitso. Kinship and the access to political and religious rights vested in it are determined by paternal descent.
Kinship Terminology. Within the kinship group generation, older brothers are distinguished from younger brothers, and the father's older brothers from his younger brothers. The older brothers, who represent the potential family heads senior to one's biological father, are called "father"; the younger brothers, who may be placed as junior relations under one's father, are called "little father."
Traditionally, marriage could be contracted in one of two ways: The would-be bridegroom asked for the consent of the girl (sometimes the girl suggested to her father whom she wanted to marry), or the marriage was arranged by the heads of the families. Polygynous marriages were very common both before and after the introduction of the Islamic faith. Marriage involves the payment of a bride-price by the groom, and postmarital residence is patrilocal. Marriage has no real meaning without procreation. Barrenness is regarded as a curse and a misfortune, and traditional means are utilized to secure fertility or cure barrenness. Divorce rarely occurs because men want to avoid the publicity and ridicule of divorce proceedings in Alkali court (Islamic court). Most marriages are terminated only by the death of a spouse. Widows must remain in the compound for five months before they can remarry.
Among the Nupes, marriage is a sacred institution which is contracted between a man and a woman. The two people involved are referred to as “eba yawo and yawo” meaning husband and wife.
In the earlier Nupe tradition, young boys and girls did not on their own choose who to marry. This arrangement was left for the two families to decide on behalf of their children. However, this has changed significantly over the last three decades. Young boys and girls now meet and agree with one another before they involve their parents. However, one thing is very clear, the practice follows mutual understanding, consent and approval of both parents. It is against this background that when the boy’s family wants to ask for the hand in marriage of a girl (desire to marry their daughter) to their son that one of the elders or a family friend (Rinna) is sent on delegate mission to meet with the girl’s family. The Rinna is very important in Nupe marriage; he is the intermediary between the two families, though with paramount interest of the boy’s family.
At the inception of negotiations, the Rinna goes to see the girl’s family on a mission called “Egi wa” meaning seeking for marriage of a girl. This mission is accompanied with Kola-nut and some money as evidence. The girl’s family collects the items and a reply will follow sooner or later. This is marked by the distribution of these Kolanuts and money (no matter how little) to immediate family members and distant relations of the girl’s family announcing that their daughter Miss A is now blessed with a husband, which the family after due consultations and investigations will finally approve of.
The next stage now is for the Rinna to broadcast same to the boy’s family that mission has been accomplished, marking a good begin-ning. Therefore, the boy and his friends will now carry on a special visit called “emisa” (greetings) to the girl’s family to show appreciation for such approval. This visit affords members of the girl’s family to know their son – in – law. The period usually attracts a lot of jokes from older women in the girl’s compound who will claim to be the first wife, hence, a big challenge for their future bridegroom or son-in-law. Infact, some will even go ahead to assess in joking pattern, his completion, physique and handsome looks. That is not a problem, as majority of Nupe people have similar looks – handsome, sociable and peaceloving. In the post-jihadist movement, there has been no reported communal, religious, ethnic or political upheaval of any magnitude in Nupeland. Hence, Nupe people are models in peaceful coexistence.
The subsequent stages are related to the wedding plans. These start with the negotiation of “Ewo yawo” (bride – price) which differs from one Nupe zone to another but majority are in accordance with the tenets of Islam. After a specific amount is agreed upon, the Rinna ensures prompt payment and other charges are set aside like “Godiyagi” (small thanks) and “Godiyako” (big thanks). The amounts are used to show appreciation to relatives and the girl’s parents respectively. The later in addition to other resources the girl’s parents can afford are used to acquire wedding gifts such as plates, cooking utensils, dresses and new cloths for their beloved daughter. Any sacrifice in this direction is not too much. This is because in Nupe custom there is a wise saying that “The daughter of a bride must also become a bride” many women look forward to this land-mark event in their lives.
When all the conditions are fulfilled and the girl reaches puberty and is assumed “matured” to undertake maternal responsibilities, the Rinna meets with the boy’s family to decide on the month of the year they want the marriage ceremony. He then communicates this to the girl’s family who will give approval after due consultations with other family members. Finally, a specific date is fixed in the approved month and the wedding proper is arranged.
On the night preceding the wedding date, the girl is formally initiated into marriage “yaworufa dan”. This date in the 19th Century up to the early 20th Century, is kept secret and the girl does not know about it. However, things have since changed, that not only are Kola-nuts distributed to all well-wishers from both sides openly, but also, the introduction of invitation card in accordance with the dictates of modern civilization characterizes Nupe marriage in the 21st Century.
On the wedding date, Mu’alims (Islamic scholars) are invited by the girl’s parents to carry out the solemnization of their children’s wedding fatiha with representatives of the boy’s family in attendance and other well-wishers present to bear witness and share the joy of the occasion.After the pronouncement of the couple as husband and wife, celebrations follow all through the night. In some families, Islamic preaching is observed all night, while in a majority, beating of drums and folk songs are engaged in with well wishers joining the families in celebrations.
Late in the evening of the wedding fatiha, the new bride is prepared for the journey to her husband’s home. She goes round relatives to bid them farewell, that emotional moment is not always easy for both the bride and the parents as tears and prayers flow freely. Others give her final counselling and guidance for a successful marriage life. Then the parents finally handover the girl to Rinna (yawogo) and she is usually accompanied by a little girl and another married woman to her new home.
In the new home she is received into a newly prepared room by the groom’s family. Here, another round of celebrations continue for the next 24 hours. This time around, it is merry making galore and the atmosphere becomes charged with dancing and singing as the common feature. In the traditional age-old Nupe culture, this ceremony may last between 5-7 days. But nowadays, the entire ceremony is completed within 24-48 hours. Several traditional practices in Nupe marriage have been jettisoned due to the enlightment created by Islamic preaching and educational programmes.
In Christian communities, church wedding systems are adopted based on the teachings of each denomination. However, varying degrees of celebrations are observed in terms of entertainment and support by friends, family and well-wishers.
The members of a household share a house and cook and eat together. Household size has declined as young people have migrated to towns to work or attend school. Most households consist of a nuclear family and relatives of the husband or wife. Children are often left in the care of grandparents when married couples move to town. In a polygynous setting each wife has her own hut or room, and in some cases all the women eat together. Maintaining a household requires the labor of both men and women. In times of economic hardship a mother may take over some of the financial duties of the household normally handled by the father.
The deceased's property is divided between his oldest son, other sons, full brothers, and daughter in decreasing proportions. If the children are very young, the money is held in trust for them. If the marriage did not produce children, a woman may inherit from her husband or the deceased's brothers may forgo their right in her favor if they feel she has been a very good wife.
Infants and children are cared for by both parents, by grandparents, and by older siblings. Emphasis is placed on sharing, cooperation, avoidance of quarrels, and respect toward one's superiors. Children may be sent right to a boarding school for years, or their relatives may take them in, enroll them in school, and arrange their marriages. Children call these foster parents father and mother and when grown up visit them and give them money before visiting their biological parents.
Social organization in Nupe villages and towns follows a consistent pattern. Normally, the village chief rules over his community, assisted by the village elders, the nusazi, or Old Ones. The elders are the heads of families or of groups of families that live together in one compound or efu. Appointment to the position of an elder is expressed in the titles the chief confers on these members of his council. The office of the elders is very loosely specialized. Certain titles reflect the special occupations nusazi and their families follow, such as hunters, drummers, and blacksmiths. No "house" may be excluded from a share of village offices or "own" more than one title. The village elders are the representatives of the chief through whom his orders reach the community; the informants on whom the chief depends, and the spokesperson of the people they represent both in their official capacity and as heads of kin groups.
Among the pre-Fulani (Islamic) Nupe the link with magic and myth, rituals and taboos, and the law of succession separated the king from his subjects. Fulani rule turned this semisacred kingship into strong rulership. The king became the highest rank holder in a royal nobility characterized by precedence and promotion. The elimination of primogeniture provided a system of succession that allowed for a balance of power that could satisfy rivals.
The Fulani created emirs (kings), who in a loose sense became vassals of the Fulani Empire of Gwandu. Under British indirect rule in Nigeria the Etsu was still elected from the ranks of the royal princes by gitsuzi and sarakizi (title royal and non-royal elites) and assisted by a council of four.
The Etsu is the head of his government. He is responsible for law and order in his domain, carries out measures of administration, and tries certain legal cases, advised and guided by the district officer in charge of the division. The appointment of a new Etsu was subject to confirmation by the colonial governor of Nigeria, and in some cases the governor could depose the emir on the advice of the district officer. The Etsu Bida and other chiefs of the emirate are paid a salary in accordance with the importance of the office. Since the independence of Nigeria in 1960, the position of Nupe king has continued to be affected by the political situation. However, the practice of compensating traditional rulers with salaries and confirmation of new appointments to the throne has continued under subsequent Nigerian governments.
Social control is geared toward ensuring social responsibility. Religious (desecration of sacred objects or places) and kinship (inheritance, violation of marriage rules, incest) offenses may result in ostracism or punishment by the deity. Simpler offenses traditionally were settled by reparation (gyara) or arbitration, and more serious offenses involving "criminal" cases called for formal judgment and punishment (sheri'a). The Koranic law introduced by the Fulani was modified by the British and continued to exist side by side with customary law.
Before the British conquest Nupe history was characterized by conflict with other groups for the purpose of expansion, conquest, or revenue. Villages frequently were involved in the wars of the kingdom, either causing wars by rebelling against the central government or being forced to take part in the wars the kingdom waged against other groups. Three subgroups of the Yoruba close to Nupeland—the Yagba, Abunu, and Igbomina were victims of this aggression. The defeat of Old Oyo (katunga) by the Nupe took place in the early sixteenth century. The Nupe later penetrated deep into Yorubaland, sacking Ede on the Osun River and raiding some Ijesha villages. These military activities continued until the Nupe were conquered by the Fulani and then by the British Royal Niger Company in about 1900.
Precontact religion involved a variety of local deities and the honoring of ancestors. Among pre-Islamic Nupe veneration of the guardian spirit Gunu was the most widespread religious practice and represented the peak of ceremonial life. Animals are sacrificed in his honor, and their blood is poured out as a libation to him. Every eleven months the men go to his altar, where they kneel down and bow their foreheads to the ground. There is also a semireligious institution called Ndakogboiya, in which a man may complain of a wife's conduct and beg that she be exposed, together with any other guilty party. The man then mounts a stilt and appears among the people, proclaiming their evil deeds and receiving propitiatory offerings of goats and fowl. The Ndakogboiya lost most of its efficacy when Islam replaced ancient religious beliefs.
Jubril, a Nupe king of about 1770, was the first to adopt Islam, though Islamic influence in the area may date back to 1700 c.e. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, under Etsu Mu'azu, the impact of Islam was felt through the activities of Mallam Dendo, who came to Nupeland as an emissary of the Fulani.
Islam is now the predominant religion in Nupeland, though Christianity is a common religion in very few communities where the pioneer activities of missionaries were recorded. Traditional religion was practised before the introduction of Islam. Therefore, traditional religion is no longer recognised nor practiced in Nupeland. Where such practices still occur, there is no societal recognition and practitioners are in secrecy due to shame, isolation and degrading status and the condemnation which practitioners are likely to face. Therefore, Islam is undoubtedly the predominant religion in the entire Nupeland with Christianity as the other religion practised by a lower proportion of the population. Hence, the majority of Nupe people have their culture altered with the introduction and acceptance of Islam.
The Nupe culture contained certain practices which when viewed from Islamic perspective were good and some which were bad. Those customs that were consistent with Islamic values were preserved and those that were contrary to Islamic principles were rejected. For example, the local custom recognizes the right and consent of the parents or guardians in the marriage of their children, Islam recognizes such aspects of the
culture. But if on the other hand, the local custom encourages illicit relationship between sexes or other degrading practices which are unacceptable in Islam, such cultural norms or practices are rejected.
In Nupe communities religious rituals are relegated to different officials. At Doko the Dibo Saba ritual addressed to an ancestor chief is performed by the chief, while the sako ritual, which involves a small group of hereditary hunters, is performed by the head of that group. The hereditary gunnu priest is known as Gunnuko (Great gunnu) or, more specifically, Ndazo, "the rare man." In Jebba the Ejuko is the guardian of the lineage of Tsoede. The importance of these rituals has not shielded them from the impact of cultural change. After Islamization these activities were curtailed, and they now are regarded as Satanic worship.
Ceremonial events play a major role in the social life of the Nupe. Ceremonial occasions include funerals, weddings, the naming of newborn, the coronation of a new chief, graduation from a school, the anniversary of Nigeria's independence from Britain, and Islamic and church events. The advent of Islam brought many celebrations to Nupe life: the Islamic New Year (Muharram), Id el Fitri (Ramadan) , and Id el-Kabir (falling in the month of pilgrimage). These ceremonies involve the giving of alms and the sacrifice of a ram by those who can afford it to commemorate the name of God. On these occasions people wear their best clothes and visit friends, relatives, and persons of importance.
The common festivals in Nupeland are:
(i) Pategi Regata – A colourful canoe festival on River Niger in Pategi.
(ii) Bariki celebrations in Bida – The fifth day of Sallah festival of both Id-fitr and Id-Kabir celebrations in Bida. Each of this celebration lasts five days. The fifth day is marked with fun fare, where the Etsu-Nupe rides on a horse backed with all titleholders on ground to support the Etsu Nupe in a beautiful procession of horses. People come from far and near to watch this colourful event. The procession is from the Emir’s palace in Wadata through the heart of the city to the Governor’s lodge in (GRA) Government Reservation Area known as Bariki (Elite’sresidential area).
(iii) Gani festival in Kutigi – Annual traditional boxing contest, where men display their strengths. A strong confident person comes out and challengers file out and he choses who he feels like taking on. It normally attracts large crowds from different parts of Nupeland and beyond.
The indigenous Nupe dresses like “bente” under wear have been replaced by modern pants and boxer shorts have replaced “Ganpegi” short knickers. It is also significant to note that due to the common mode of worship in Islam which requires long dress for prayers, the Nupe people are found of using the same type of dress common with Hausa people especially the “Babariga” (Big flowing Gown) and “Dan Kano” (long dress) that is now regarded as “Senegalese” because of the “over size” pattern of the dress.
Interestingly the Nupe youths are highly sociable and adventurous. Due to the inter-state travels and sojourn of these youths in cities like Lagos, Kaduna, Ilorin and Minna, they have brought along the western mode of dressing, for instance, wearing jeans-trousers and shirts to match
Nupe people are generally lively and happy people. They enjoy entertainment in the form of music. Traditional music with folksongs are prominent features during marriage ceremonies at both the bride’s and groom’s houses. It is an occasion where friends and well-wishers come over to dance and spend money to the praise singers as a clear demonstration of love and best wishes. In the past, women dominate praise singing in Bida areas, but men feature prominently in Lafiyagi area.
The foundation of Nupe Music is rooted in the original “Eyan dukun” (pot drum) and later “Gbagurasa” bigger drum that can be hung on the shoulder. The woman who brought Nupe music to national and international recognition is late Hajiya Fatima Lolo.
Nupe music has served as a motivator in-group farming in the past, where Gbagurasa drum is used to praise men in action at the farm level on competitive execution of farm operations. In recent years, it has proved to be popular social mobilization tool. Recent experience in HIV/AIDS awareness campaign reveals that Nupe Angale Music is a viable tool for mobilizing people for change in Attitude, Knowledge and Practices.
At the time of the Fulani conquest the main forms of artistic expression included weaving, cotton spinning, and hairdressing by women. Other art forms include embroidery, leatherwork, indigo dyeing, straw hat making, mat making, the manufacture of rope and twine, basketwork, and canoe building. These items are not marketed overseas. Drumming, singing, dancing, and oratory (including preaching) are also prevalent art forms.
Therapeutic practices among the Nupe include the use of natural materials such as herbs, grasses, roots, and the leaves of trees, which are processed by pulverizing, boiling, or mixing. The manufacture or application of medicine often involves invocations of the deity and sacrifices. The knowledge of medicine is transmitted through teaching and in some cases is considered hereditary. With Islam came Mal· lams, who administer cures and sell charms or amulets prepared in accordance with Islamic belief. Western medicine is practiced in hospitals and dispensaries, but the high cost of such treatment leads people to depend on traditional medicine.
In the past, apart from the facial marks that are still practised on a lower scale in some parts of Nupe land, other body marks are common. Some people still inflict body marks on their chests, shoulders and stomach. In the last decades women used to have tattoos but this custom is no longer practised.
One prominent mark is the neck mark that is associated with traditional treatment of sleeping sickness. It is believed that those who are not treated thus will be stunted in growth and sometimes could lead to mental illness. Now, this belief system is almost extinct as it is not common to see people with neck bandage or fresh neck incisions again as practised in the past.
The Nupes bear facial marks of different cuts that range from single vertical marks on both sides of the cheek (kpelle) to three horizontal cuts (eyagi). Sometimes the three horizontal cuts have additional three smaller vertical cuts all on both sides of the cheek. However, some others especially, the Kutigi people have a distinct single-long cut on the forehead (yegunla) and sometimes, additional three to five cuts on the chin (nungbe)
After conversion to Islam the Nupe came to believe that life emanates from God and exists with God in the sky. At birth it is sent down when the child is in the womb, and at death "God takes it away." During sleep body and life soul are separated temporarily; normally the soul will return to the body, but at times a person may die while asleep. Death is accompanied by ceremonial observance. This is consistent with the Nupe religion, which emphasizes ends rather than beginnings. While Islam has reduced the incidence of extravagant burials, ritual elaboration at the death of old people continues, since "they have seen the world" and there is no cause for grief. Drumming, singing, dancing, and feasting accompany their death. This festive aspect is absent in the case of younger people, whose death makes "the heart ache." The funeral includes the burial, called mba, and funeral rites performed after 8 days, 40 days, and 120 days in some cases. The number and scale of funeral rites vary with the age, sex, and status of the deceased. Old men and family heads and old women are buried in their sleeping rooms, beneath the floor; everyone else is buried in the space between the houses or by the compound wall. Sometimes graves are built from concrete cement blocks to make them more permanent and keep the memory of the deceased alive.